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What Is Piggybacking?

What Is Piggybacking

Date First Published: 2nd May 2022

Topic: Computer Networking

Subtopic: Data Transmission Technologies

Article Type: Computer Terms & Definitions

Difficulty: Medium

Difficulty Level: 4/10

Learn more about what piggybacking is in this article.

In wireless communications, piggybacking, also known as Wi-Fi squatting, refers to the unauthorised use of someone else’s wireless network. Piggybacking most often occurs in unsecured wireless networks with no security standards, although it can also occur in a secured wireless network if the password has been discovered or if a computer has been left unlocked when not in use.

The most common purpose of piggybacking is to obtain free network access when a monthly subscription cannot be afforded to an internet service provider or when a user is outside of their network span rather than for malicious purposes, such as spreading viruses or engaging in data theft. A user who engages in piggybacking is referred to as a piggybacker.

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Piggybacking has a number of effects. It can slow down the network connection for authorised users and consume much more bandwidth without the owner being aware of the reason for the reduction in speed and increased use of bandwidth.

How To Detect Piggybacking?

Piggybacking can be detected by logging into the administration page of a router, which will list all the devices that are connected to the network. If unrecognised devices are listed, that is an immediate sign of unauthorised use of that wireless network.

Example Of Piggybacking

An example of piggybacking would be someone searching on their device for a wireless network, finding an unsecured network that is owned by someone in their neighbourhood, and then using it without their permission. For shops and airports that provide users with free Wi-Fi, searching on a device for their free, unsecured wireless network and then using it is not considered piggybacking as that airport or shop has given permission for their wireless network to be used. However, non-customers or people outside the premises may be piggybacking if they haven't given permission for them to use it.

How To Prevent Piggybacking?

Piggybacking can be prevented by the following methods:

  1. Use a strong password that consists of a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols. A strong Wi-Fi password should be at least 14 characters in length. This reduces the chance of the password being cracked, leading to unauthorised use of the wireless network.
  2. Make sure that the network is secured. WPA works by adding a level of encryption to the data travelling through a wireless network. Ideally, WPA2 should be used for enhanced security, since it fixes a vulnerability. WEP should only be used if WPA is unavailable, since WEP has a lot of weaknesses and vulnerabilities and it is an outdated security standard. In addition, WEP uses a much shorter encryption key than WPA, making it easier for it to be cracked.
  3. Enable MAC filtering. This tip is optional as enabling MAC filtering will mean that the only wireless devices that can connect are the devices that have their MAC address in the filter list, making it impossible for unauthorised devices to connect to the network. This greatly improves the security of a wireless network, but also requires a lot of configuration. Before any device connects to the network, the router performs a check to see if the MAC address of the device is in the allowed list. If not, then access to the network is denied.


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